Guitarist Steve Marker and his Garbage bandmates go back a long ways. Originally, Marker played with drummer Butch Vig and guitarist Duke Erikson in Fire Town, a Madison, WI-based rock act. Marker says he liked their band so much that he had “weaseled his way” into becoming a roadie.
He and Vig then started Smart Studios, a “super lo-fi” recording studio that would become “pretty professional,” as Marker puts it. That’s an understatement, given the fact that bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins recorded there.
And then, they decided to form Garbage.
“Around 1994, we felt like it would be a good time to do something with our own ideas,” says Marker via phone from his Colorado home. On tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its second album, 2.0
, the band performs at 7:30 on Thursday, Oct. 18, at Hard Rock Live
. “We didn’t have a singer, but we found [singer] Shirley [Manson] through this weird process of watching a lot of TV. We saw her on MTV and loved her voice. We started recording with no idea of what we were doing. That’s kind of what we’re still doing."
When the band subsequently came together in 1993, Marker didn’t think of it as a long-term project.
“We thought we’d make one record, and we thought that would be it,” he says. “We couldn’t imagine playing live in front of anyone because it was this complex recording process using lots of electronics and it was pretty unwieldy at the time. Here we are, and [Garbage is] basically all we do now, and this is the 20th anniversary of our second record. That was long time ago, but we’re still having a lot of fun doing it, which is really rare. Most people after that amount of time rarely speak to each other.”
Garbage’s self-titled debut became a hit, and the record label requested the band deliver a commercially successful follow-up. Working out of Madison gave the guys an advantage.
“Smart Studios was like a clubhouse; it’s a grunge-y ugly little building,” says Marker. “It worked great because nobody bothered us or even knew we were there. The whole thing would have turned out differently if we were based in New York or L.A. because you have people around you all the time. That first record did really well, and there was a lot of pressure from the label. It was good for us to have a hideaway in the Midwest where we could just get on with it. We were lucky to have that.”
When the band started to write the songs for 2.0
, Marker says it sought to make them “bigger and brighter and shinier.”
“I knew we had it in to us to write some really good songs,” he says. “We have deep backgrounds in pop music and not just what’s on the radio today. We all like Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys and Cole Porter and the Beatles and Roxy Music and [Brian] Eno and King Crimson and all the electronic stuff that we also love. We wanted to see how far we could push combining all that stuff and still make it palatable. It’s pretty easy to take a bunch of weird shit and throw it together and impress your friends with how weird you are. But to reach something that almost reaches the mainstream but remain something that’s interesting to listen to over a period of time was what we were shooting for. Going back and playing it live now, I think we achieved that to some extent.”
Sonically, it sounds superb. The organic and electronic instrumentation is nicely balanced in songs such as the “Temptation Waits,” a tune that features propulsive drums, distorted vocals and snarling guitars. The shimmering “I Think I’m Paranoid” showcases Manson’s vocals as she effectively alternates between crooning and screaming. The album has its industrial rock moments but then never devolve into the kind of white noise that bands such as Ministry and Nine Inch Nails were pushing at the time.
“We wanted to go digital because we knew we could push it farther,” says Marker. “We got obsessed with the possibility of that. Now, everyone has [recording software] on their laptop, and it’s not a big deal at all. Back then, to have more than 16 tracks was a luxury. Sometimes, we pushed it too far and had 100 guitar tracks. You could record 100 different versions of something and still not come up with something good. We were lost in that version. There was a lot going with a lot of bands in terms of how far you could push a guitar sound so it doesn’t sound like a guitar anymore. That’s what we were trying to do. It was like, ‘How many things can I run my guitar through until it’s un-useable?’ We also wanted to write some really good songs that — God forbid — might get on the radio.
The expanded reissue of the album includes tracks like “Lick the Pavement” that the band churned out for B-sides.
“I like the song, and it’s fun to play live now, but I don’t think it fits on the album,” says Marker when asked why it didn’t make the final cut. “When you have to chose those 12 or 14 songs, it didn’t fit into that narrative. That was a B-side. I don’t remember what song it was a B-side for. It’s often last minute. It’s like, ‘It’s Tuesday, and we need three new songs.’ We had to scramble. I think we did that one in a couple of hours and there wasn’t much thought put into it. That’s often a good thing if you don’t overthink things. It’s basically a three-chord punk song.”
For the live show, the band will play the album in its entirety, B-sides included.
“Typically, a set builds and builds, and you can predict the trajectory of it,” Marker explains. “There are a lot of ups and downs in this set that take people by surprise. It was hard for us to settle in with how to present it, but I think it’s working great. It’s every B-side except for ‘Tornado,’ which was done so quickly and with so little thought that it’s not enough of a song to play live. There’re all there. It’s kind of fun for us to go back and try to figure out how to do all that stuff again.”